Friday, September 30, 2005

N triumphs at last!

I start work in Northampton on Tuesday.

All those South African 'connections' to do with yesterday's interview came to nothing. The one guy liked me a lot but the one who had the deciding vote felt I wasn't the 'right fit' even though he liked everything about my skills and experience.

Basically, they don't want me.

It remains to be seen if anything will come of the interview for the Jo'burg job - no feedback yet but I ought to hear something on Monday.

Not to worry, at least I have a job now.

Phrases learnt in Singapore

Since today has been a day for posting about words, let me educate you with some terms I learnt in Singapore:

  • rice queens: guys that prefer Chinese guys.
  • potato queens: guys that prefer white guys.
  • curry queens (sometimes called chutney queens): guys that prefer Indian guys.
  • sticky rice: Chinese guys that prefer other Chinese guys.
  • mashed potato: White guys that prefer other white guys.
  • buffet queens: guys that like other guys of any race.

It's all about racist attitudes, of course, but funny nevertheless. I wonder if there are any other terms, I've forgotten about?

Best religious jokes

Yesterday's Guardian carried an article by Emo Philips lamenting the fact that he hadn't been credited for creating the joke that recently won Ship of Fool's competition to determine the 'best God joke ever'. The joke has been around for a long while so you may have heard it before. It's clever, and very funny:

Once I saw this guy on a bridge about to jump. I said, "Don't do it!" He said, "Nobody loves me." I said, "God loves you. Do you believe in God?"

He said, "Yes." I said, "Are you a Christian or a Jew?" He said, "A Christian." I said, "Me, too! Protestant or Catholic?" He said, "Protestant." I said, "Me, too! What franchise?" He said, "Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Baptist or Southern Baptist?" He said, "Northern Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist or Northern Liberal Baptist?"

He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist." I said, "Me, too! Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region, or Northern Conservative Baptist Eastern Region?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region." I said, "Me, too!"
Northern Conservative†Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1879, or Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912?" He said, "Northern Conservative Baptist Great Lakes Region Council of 1912." I said, "Die, heretic!" And I pushed him over.

Ship of Fools is a Christian website, "the magazine of Christain unrest", that aims to promote clever debate far removed from conserative Christianity. They launched the competition in response to the British government's proposed anti-religious hatred legislation. This is the winner of 'the most offensive joke':

A little girl is standing on top of a cliff, looking down at the sea and crying her eyes out. A priest approaches and says, "My child, why are you so upset?"

The little girl turns to him and says, "My mummy and daddy were in their car -- and it just rolled over the cliff and smashed on the rocks down there."

The priest slowly looks around him while unbuttoning his cassock and says, "It's just not your day, is it?"

The top ten jokes in each category can be found here.

At the end of the Guardian article, Elmo Philips lists a few more of his religious jokes:
  • When I was a kid, I used to pray every night for a new bike. Then I realised, the Lord doesn't work that way. So I just stole one and asked Him to forgive me ... and I got it!
  • So I'm at the wailing wall, standing there like a moron, with my harpoon."
  • A Mormon told me that they don't drink coffee. I said, "A cup of coffee every day gives you wonderful benefits." He said, "Like what?" I said, "Well, it keeps you from being Mormon ..."
  • I'm not Catholic, but I gave up picking my belly button for lint.
  • When I was a kid my dad would say, "Emo, do you believe in the Lord?" I'd say, "Yes!" He'd say, "Then stand up and shout Hallelujah!" So I would ... and I'd fall out of the roller coaster

Weird and wonderful vocabulary

JIEYU Chinese
To break into jail in order to rescue a prisoner.
YUYURUNGUL Yindiny, Australia
The noise of a snake sliding through grass.
To improve one's looks by plastic surgery.
A girl who looks as though she might be pretty when seen from behind, but isn't when seen from the front. (brilliant - we need that word in English!)
The sound of dry leaves or twigs being trodden underfoot.
YUYIN Chinese
The remnants of sound that stay in the ears of the hearer
KORO Japanese
The hysterical belief that one's penis is shrinking into one's body.
GRILAGEM Brazilian Portuguese
The practice of putting a live cricket into a box of newly faked documents, until the insect's excrement makes the paper look convincingly old.
FUCHA Portuguese
To use company time and resources for one's own purposes.
PAUKIKAPE Ancient Greek
The collar worn by slaves while grinding corn, in order to stop them eating it.

I got those examples from a review of Adam Jacot de Boinod's book, 'The Meaning of Tingo'. It's just the sort of book that I enjoy browsing through, the ideal book for spending too much time with on the toilet. And, because I liked those examples, I thought I'd surf for other reviews that may also give examples from the book.

Hey, what can I say, I'm a cheapskate - why buy the book if you can find all it says on the net?

So, what did I find? Quite a few reviews, many of which gave a few more examples, but also a fair number of articles and blog postings that debunk the book and its premise.

Languagehat summarises it in an entry entitled 'Tingo and Other Nonsense', giving this example taken from Language Log, another great blog on languages:

As an aside, the reliance on sketchy online dictionaries and wordlists can yield unintentionally humorous results. Take, for instance, the Maserati Kubang. Unveiled in 2003, this "concept car" is supposedly named after "a wind over Java." (Maserati has a tradition of naming cars after exotic-sounding winds.) Close, but no cigar — the actual word is kumbang, not kubang. Angin kumbang literally means "bumblebee wind" in Javanese and Indonesian, and it refers to a very dry south or southwesterly wind that blows into the port of Cirebon on the north coast of Java. But this got mangled on various websites listing winds of the world..., and kumbang was changed to kubang. What does kubang mean in Indonesian? "Mudhole, mud puddle, quagmire."

Probably not the image Maserati was going for!

The language boffs dismiss de Boinod as a 'BBC researcher' with 'no knowledge of linguistics/languages' who compiled his book with the aid of dictionaries and on-line wordlists. And they dismiss the book as being riddled with errors and inaccuracies.

Damn, that's a shame, now I won't trust anything that comes from the book. It does provide me with one consolation though - I won't be tempted to buy it.

In case you want to know what 'tingo' means, it means to borrow objects one by one from a friend's house until nothing is left

Thursday, September 29, 2005

So many South African connections

Dorking - London Marylebone - High Wycombe. A two-hour train journey.

It was the first time I've been to High Wycombe since 1987 when my wife and I drove there to see a colleague's brother to arrange a mortgage. That was about 6 months after arriving in England. At that stage, we thought that we'd left for good but we returned 3.5 years later.

I hung around the station for about 40 minutes before catching a taxi to the business park where I was going to be interviewed. The taxi reeked of smoke and was driven by a woman who looked like she lives life to the full. She made the perfect taxi driver - chatty, informative and full of smiles. I discovered that she brought up her daughter as a single mother and that her mother was a South African who moved here 50 years ago.

'My Dad was in the Merchant Navy. Had Mum not followed him out here, I'd have met a tall blonde South African with blue eyes and be living out there in the sun,' she said, self-mockingly.

While I stood outside the building having a fag before going in to the reception, two young guys came outside to have a smoke. They were speaking Afrikaans.

'In my (said in Afrikaans) point of view (said in Afrikaans accent), die (said in Afrikaans) engine capacity (said in Afrikaans accent) is nie so goed soos die van die BMW (said in Afrikaans),' said the one to the other.

I smiled inwardly to myself.

During the interview, I discovered that the billion pound company interviewing me for a job is owned by the Bidvest Group, a South African investment holding company. Bidvest Holdings? New name to me! They must be a huge player on the Jo'burg Stock Exchange if they own that sort of company in the UK.

The interview went on for much longer than expected and seemed to go very well. They know that I need to decide on the Northampton job very soon so I expect to hear their verdict tomorrow morning. The money's better and the job sounds much more interesting and challenging.

All today's South African 'connections' must mean that I've got the job!

Wednesday, September 28, 2005

The 'Referencing Saga' ends.

The bureaucratic nightmare that was the referencing process for the new job has ended! My references are all above board and the new employers are satisfied that I'm not a terrorist, a fraudster or a charlatan. Ideally, I should start tomorrow as the sooner I start earning money, the better.

But now it's my turn to delay.

Tomorrow, I have an interview in High Wycombe for a job that pays better. An agent contacted me about it after I'd decided on the Northampton job. I decided to go for it in case my references were inadequate and I was forced to look for work elsewhere. It would be silly not to go for it even though now it's ok to make plans for moving to Northampton.

But, there's more to add to my state of confusion.

In the past few weeks, I've had two telephone interviews to work for a consultancy in Jo'burg. I had a short, third one today. More of a formality than anything else. The agent expects me to get an offer tomorrow.

Now, I really want to go back to South Africa, preferably Cape Town, but anywhere will do. This seems like such a perfect opportunity but it isn't right now. I've built up a huge mountain of debt since being unemployed and earning pounds would rectify that situation a lot quicker than earning rands. Ideally, I'd like the Jo'burg position offered to me after 6 months of working here. Even three months of working here would make a huge difference. Although they would want me to start very soon they don't expect me to be there within weeks but I'm sure that they don't expect it to be too many months away.

I really wish this hadn't come along to confuse me like this!

Problems with Porn

Yesterday, out of sheer boredom, I did a lot of 'house-keeping' on my laptop. Apart from deleting tons of old emails and documents, I moved a lot of them into newly-created folders with appropriate names. Whether I'll still think them appropriate in a few week's time, remains to be seen. My filing system and naming standards are very haphazard so I suspect I may wish that I'd left things as they were.

Once the excitement of that chore died down, I thought I'd have a go at filing my porn into suitable categories. A really pointless task as I almost never go back to look at the porn I download. I hardly ever look at internet porn but I sometimes go through a phase of downloading the stuff. Strangely enough, the enforced celibacy of the last month hasn't got me into one of those phases...yet. Those of you who indulge in this sort of deviant behaviour will know the drill. If you see something you like, you think, 'Must keep that, will definitely want to look at that again.' Left click, right click, press 'save'. While you may go back to it, I hardly ever do - what a waste of space! Oh, and time.

So, I created a whole lot of folders such as 'Bath & Shower', 'Big Boys', 'Chests', 'Couples', 'Fucking', 'Getting Undressed', 'Kissing', 'Outdoors', 'Sports', 'Hunks & Muscle Men', 'Twinks & Jocks', etc. Standard stuff - we all categorise our porn like that, don't we? As I started moving files around, I'd sometimes have to create new categories. Or even, subcategories. After I'd created two subcategories I really started to wonder about myself. Downloading porn that I never look at is one thing but getting obsessive on how to categorise it was definitely a bit beyond the pale. It gets worse. Rather stupidly, I hadn't thought of just how difficult it can be to categorise things that can easily belong to two or more categories. Contending with that is what librarians do every day,of course, but they get paid for it and they are trained in indexing methods and have access to sophisticated indexing tools.

After two hours of wading through lots of naked flesh and erect cocks, I finally saw the error of my ways and went and had a cold shower. Well, not quite, I merely went outside for a cigarette in the icy wind. When I got back, I got rid of it all. That's a lie - I kept a folder called 'Best Pictures'. I just couldn't bring myself to delete it. Silly man!

While trawling through the porn I came across two bitmaps created with Microsoft Paint by my daughter. How they got into the porn directory, I really have no idea but I'm sure that I must have moved them there by mistake. I like to take comfort from thinking that the porn is buried in a folder that is well-hidden from prying eyes. With computer-savvy kids, it may be a false sense of comfort.

The pictures were created about 18 months ago. One is a 'love letter' to the family, the other a 'self-portrait'.

She's actually rather good at art but her MS Paint skills aren't going to have her winning art competitions any time soon. But, they're really sweet so I've kept them. They've been moved to another directory, far away from the porn. I don't like the idea of my occasional porn habit coming anywhere near my children. They'd be horrified if they were to know about it but while I'm sure my daughter isn't a closet porn addict, I know that my son tends to dabble.

In yesterday's cleaning up exercise, I came across various Word files with odd, meaningless names. They were full of pictures of bare, busty women. Not the sort of thing I'd look at never mind actually create! When I'm in Cape Town, the kids often use my laptop as it's more powerful than the desktop. Mostly they use it for games but they also use the internet connection. I guess I now know what my son uses the internet for!

All this housekeeping stuff and internet porn reminded me of the shock I got when I did a bit scanning using the desktop about 18 months after I left Cape Town to work in the UK. Before I left, I made sure that all the dodgy stuff had been removed. I was very careful to remove all history and temporary files from Explorer. I deleted all files of an incriminating nature. And, no, I didn't forget to empty the recycle bin!

After scanning whatever it was, I opened up the computer's image manipulation program. As with most programs these days, it keeps a track of recently opened documents. I discovered that there's no need to actually open the documents to see what they were as the thumbnails open automatically.

Pictures of myself in very compromising positions with my ex!

I felt all light-headed with the shock of it. The horror of it! The shame of it! I tried to open the images but an error was returned. The images no longer existed even though the thumb nails were displayed. It seems that the program retains a 'ghost' of the image even though the image no longer exists.

Thank God no one had used the program since I'd last used it. That's what I tell myself, what I keep telling myself, as I can't be entirely sure that no one had opened the program even if it hadn't been used to manipulate other images since then.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005


After the severe case of the blogging trots that I had over the weekend, I'm all blogged out. Blog-stopped is another way of looking at it.

Sunday, September 25, 2005

A Tale of Two Barbers

barber sign - ghanaI had a haircut yesterday, the first one since Nottingham Pride (23 July) which makes it almost 2 months to the day since I last had one. My hair grows quickly and I usually have it cut every 4-6 weeks so I was looking a bit woolly. It didn't look bad but my sideburns and the bits at the back were verging on untidy. The bits at the side were doing 'that Hal Jordan thing' as my ex used to say, something that appealed to him. In other words, the grey was pretty obvious to see. That doesn't bother me but, all-in-all, it was definitely time for a cut.

In Nottingham, I always had my hair cut by P at Jack's Hairdressing and Urban Therapy for Men. A long, trendy name for a barbershop but it's the sort of place that suits that sort of name. Or, at least, thinks it deserves that sort of name. You know what I mean - loud music, lots of chrome and steel, black and grey decor, multiple TV screens on the wall, etc. Oh, and expensive haircuts. The first time I went in, I just walked off the street and was lucky enough to have P cut my hair. Tall, lean, strong, gentle, intelligent, interesting, well-travelled, easy-going, good-looking - just the sort of man I go for. A few days later, I was in London - I told G and M that I'd fallen in lust with my barber. I had no idea if he was gay or not but I knew that I'd be going back.

barber sign - ivory coast
The day before I next went into Jack's, I was in the Nottingham gaydar chatroom, talking crap and looking at profiles. As one does. One of them was of a rather sexy guy whose profile was linked to his partner's. Naturally, I had a look at it. Well, well, it was P, my barber. Not only was it P but it was one of THOSE profiles - lots of naked flesh, lots to look at. “Ok, so that confirms it, he is gay,” I thought. Nice to know even if he does have a partner. But, not only did I now know that he was gay but I also knew exactly what he looks like when naked. And there was no need to wonder what does it for him sexually. As a result, any fantasies that I may've had about him were swiftly put to bed. But, now I also felt slightly awkward about seeing him again. No real reason for that apart from the fact that I'd feel odd if someone knew all that sort of stuff about me without my knowing it. Silly, I know. And, anyway, if you're going to put that sort of thing in your profile, it's to be expected, right?

I made the appointment.

I still found him as deliciously sexy as before and he was as nice as before. Of course he was, there was no reason why it should be any different. He became my regular barber, eventually discovering that I'm also gay. We chatted about all sorts of things while watching the interminable MTV and extreme sports programs playing on the bank of screens that covered the wall. Every now and again, we'd even chat briefly on gaydar.

Eventually, I no longer fancied him.

If I were still in Nottingham, he'd still be cutting my hair. But, I'm not and I needed a haircut.

barber sign - ivory coastWe had an early supper last night then drove down to Selsey to visit P and G. L became friendly with them almost 20 years ago after treating P for cancer. With L's parents being in South Africa, P and G sort-of became her 'surrogate parents' in the UK. G has been cutting D's hair ever since he and L got married. I've known them for about just as long and G has cut my hair once before. On the lawn here, one sunny afternoon about 3 years ago.

Having known G for all these years, I know of his stories and I've heard many of them first-hand. But when he's cutting your hair, you have his full attention and the stories tumble out in a torrent. Some of them you've heard before but there are always new ones. He's a simple man, comes from the 'old school' and inhabited an entirely different era - his stories are never boring. His stories are gossipy but mostly entirely discreet, especially when it comes to the royals.

Once he'd finished cutting D's hair, he called through to the sitting room, "Alan, come along, I'm ready for you."

D passed me in the hallway. He looked fresh and newly cut and gave me a knowing smile that said, "Your turn to listen to G."

I walked into the kitchen, G's 'salon'. A chair was in the middle of the room, facing the small telly in the corner. The place was spotless, not a trace of D's hair to be seen. "Sit down," he said.

barber sign - ghana

Once I was seated, he placed a large barber's 'sheet' around me, fastening it behind my neck. "I know you like to ruffle it up a bit," he said and set upon me with a comb and scissors. I suppose I could have said something but it was understood that he knew what needed to be done and that was that.

G moved to London from Cambridge when he was 14 and immediately started a barber's apprenticeship at Truefitt & Hill, the world's oldest barbershop. He worked there until he retired at 59 in 1989. P had started work at Jack's a couple of month's before he'd cut my hair for the first time. He'd just returned to the UK after 7 year's of travelling abroad.

barber sign - ivory coastThe telly was turned on to the dog-racing. It wasn't loud and G didn't stop talking to me for a minute. But I knew that he was watching. At the end of some races, he'd stop cutting for a moment, still talking away. I found out that he used to own a few greyhounds that he used to race up and down the country. One of the puppies he'd bought had been reared by a breeder who used to tie an entire sheep from the rafters so that the puppies had to leap up at it when hungry. This strengthened their legs. "Never came across such a thing in my life," he said, shaking his head in amazement.

G isn't very fast with the comb and scissors. He's slow and methodical - it's just his way and has nothing to do with his dexterity. And he likes to talk. And talk. I've said that already but it has to slow him down even if he can cut and talk at the same time. If any hair fell on my face, he tended not to notice it but if I moved to brush it away, he'd stop cutting and brush it away with a small brush. Then he'd dip the brush in powder and brush behind my ears and neck.

barber sign - burkino fasoDuring G's time at the barbershop, they'd got three royal warrants - perfumers to the Queen, barbers to Prince Philip and Prince Charles. The royals never came into the premises so barbers were sent to whichever palace they happened to be residing in at the time. But Prince Michael and the Duke of Kent came in all the time. As did many parliamentarians, diplomats, famous businessmen and actors.

The pay wasn't good and the staff relied on their tips. "I remember once not taking my wages for 6 months. I left it in the office. At least then it was something,” he said, without a trace of bitterness. "All the customers were right gentlemen." He paused a while, then said, "Marvellous actor, that John Mills. He was pleasant but the staff didn't like him much. Not a very good tipper, he was.'"

"Are you almost done?" called P from the sitting room.

"Almost done," he replied.

"Alright then," she said, "put the kettle on when you're finished."

barber sign - ivory coast"The Oppenheimers used to come in all the time. Both Harry and Nicky," he carried on. "And the brilliant one, can't remember his name now. The one who married Harry's daughter. Harry told me that when the marriage went sour, he went in and said that he supposed that he wouldn't be there much longer. Harry said, 'What happens between you and my daughter is of no concern when it comes to business. You will be staying on.' Charles used to cut Harry’s hair. He insisted upon it - he was the best cutter. Many years later he retired to South Africa and he used to cut Harry’s hair there.”

(the Oppenheimers are fabulously wealthy people who control much of Anglo-American (South Africa's largest company) and de Beers, the diamond cartel)

barber's clippers

G was finished with the scissors now. He reached over to the counter for a box near the toaster. An old box, a sort of tan colour with lots of red on it. He opened it and got out a pair of manual clippers. The barber I used to go to as a child in Matola used to use clippers like those. He often used to nick my skin. P, like all modern barbers, uses an array of different electric razors. The smaller ones are used for trimming around the ears and tidying up towards the end. No fancy electric gadgets for G - I'm sure he must have got those when he did his apprenticeship!

You'll be wrong if you think that G just talked at me about himself. He asked me questions about my job-hunting, about the kids, about all sorts of things. I answered him but I kept steering him back to his own stories.

barber sign - burkino faso

I asked more about Edward Fox when I heard that he'd been going in to have his hair cut since a teenager. "What a lovely head of hair he had," said G. "He was always late, you know, and it really annoyed Tom. One day Tom said, 'I'm going to get him.' I said, 'Be careful now, don't be silly, you don't want to lose your job.' When Edward came in, Tom boomed at him and pushed him into the chair. 'You're always late, you can't do that if you want to succeed in life. What do you want to be one day?' Edward told him he wanted to be an actor. 'An actor?' he said. 'You'll never be an actor!'" G chuckled, "Tom couldn't have been more wrong!"

He didn't nick me but the clippers occasionally pulled. He apologised the one time I winced. It seemed churlish to make him apologise - I made sure that I didn't wince after that.

barber sign - burkino faso

Just before he finished, he told me how there'd been much excitement in the shop one day when they heard that Edmund Hillary and 'that Sherpa chappie' were upstairs having their pictures taken at the 'royal photographer'. The manager stopped them as they were leaving and called them into the shop. Everyone shook their hands.

"There you go, all done," he said. He brushed me off, wiped hair off my face, and powdered my neck again. I offered to clean up but he would have nothing of that. "Go look in the bathroom mirror if you like," he said. It was said as an aside, a courtesy, not as an invitation to check on his handiwork in case I wasn't entirely satisfied. I went to the bathroom.

My hair looked perfectly acceptable - staid, very conventional, not a hint of trendiness.

barber sign - ghanaTen minutes later he had joined us in the sitting room and P was in the kitchen making us tea.

We hadn't discussed music or movies. There was no talk of drugs or travel. There wasn't a hint of sexual frisson and I hadn't imagined him naked (God forbid!). P is definitely the better barber, in more ways than one, but G is the better story-teller. By a long shot!

I look forward to the next time he cuts my hair.

Let's play hide-and-seek

The kids were playing hide-and-seek. It’s a brilliant garden for that and they could have remained unfound for ages. But, at ages 6 and 4, they were much more interested in being found than remaining hidden. It reminded me of this old joke:

Let’s play hide-and-seek. I hide and you seek. If you find me, you fuck me. Ok, I’m going to hide now.

I’m in the cupboard!

These parents aren't South African!

It’s a big garden, full of interesting places to explore and it’s warm and sunny. The kids are running around having fun.

‘Annabelle, Jason, where are your shoes? Let me show you what happens if you don’t wear shoes.’

These parents aren’t South African!

Blogging about blogging

Yesterday, I got out of the house TWICE! First it was the trip to Reigate and Crawley, then it was a trip down to Selsey with D and L to spend the evening with some good friends of theirs. I had a haircut there (I really needed it!) and I have lots to say about that. I've actually got things to do here today, so I'll get to that later or tomorrow.

In the meantime, rattling around livewire's place, I discovered a bit more about her by reading what she has to say about blogging about blogging.

1. Do you try to look hot when you go to the grocery store just in case someone recognizes you from your blog? I hardly ever go to the grocery store but if I do I'll usually check to see if having not showered for a day or two calls for a quick shower before departure. That has nothing to do with meeting another blogger, it's all about some long-buried sense of self-pride that re-surfaces on occasion. That's only sometimes true - I'm not really a slob!

2. Are the photos you post Photoshopped or otherwise altered? I've only used one contemporary pic of myself and it was presented as a Flickr magazine cover - you could say that it was altered but disguising myself wasn't the intention.

3. Do you like it when creeps or dorks email you? I haven't received any weird emails yet. I'm good about corresponding with strangers (not so good with friends!), so I'd probably respond and even get into a heated email debate about something for a while. If it were to go on too long and/or get too weird, I'd make sure they know that I want them to fuck off.

4. Do you lie in your blog? No lies so far. No conscious ones, that is. Reported speech has to be approximations of the truth - my memory isn't THAT good! For someone who's often very vague (and enebriated at the time some of the events took place), my memory is rather good.

5. Are you passive-aggressive in your blog? No. I just ramble on about things, all sort of things, often things where being passive-aggressive would make no sense. I can get very passionate about things but I'm not passive-aggressive in real life so see no reason to get so here.

6. Do you ever threaten to quit writing so people will tell you not to stop? I've not been blogging long enough to even contemplate that. At the moment, I'm an obsessive blogger so it's not entered my mind. Also, I can't see such a threat causing anyone to object let alone blink.

7. Are you in therapy? If not, should you be? If so, is it helping? No, no and no. My brief flirtation with therapy many years ago seemed like a total waste of time so I've no intention to repeat it. But I find blogging cathartic and it appeals to my addictive personality so it could be classified as a form of therapy.

8. Do you delete mean comments? Do you fake nice ones? I've had no mean ones so far. The nice ones felt good so having more of those would be nice. I've never faked an orgasm so can't see myself faking a nice comment. Hmmm...being reminded of orgasms while talking of nice blog comments is bizarre - maybe I do need therapy.

9. Have you ever rubbed one out while reading a blog? How about after? No. What for?

10. If your readers knew you in person, would they like you more or like you less? I suspect they'd like me more. Wishful thinking? I vonna be loved? Ok, maybe they won't like me more but I'm sure that they won't like me less.

11. Do you have a job? No. Almost there, I hope.

12. If someone offered you a decent salary to blog full-time without restrictions, would you do it? Of course, silly question! But, anyone paying that sort of money for this sort of waffle must be mad.

13. Which blogger do you want to meet in real life? I met some of the best bloggers before meeting their blogs and I've met some of the best bloggers since meeting their blogs. As for the rest, there are lots of them but I'm in no rush to do so.

14. Which bloggers have you made out with? No comment.

15. Do you usually act like you have more money or less money than you really have? My finaces are in a constant 'boom and bust' cycle. I spend heavily when I'm earning because I like to have a good time and I like those around me to have a good time with me. There's no pretence involved.

16. Does your family read your blog? No. They don't know it exists and I'm happy for that to continue.

17. How old is your blog? One month. I set it up just over a year ago but never wrote anything on it besides 'this is a test post'. I've only started blogging since being incarcerated in rural Surrey.

18. Do you get more than 1000 page views per day? Do you care? The average hovers around 25-30, the maxium was about 50. More hits would be cool but I can't say that I'm losing any sleep over this.

19. Do you have another secret blog in which you write about being depressed, slutty, or a liar? It all happens here. There is more of a concentration on the slutty than the other stuff.

20. Have you ever given another blogger money for his/her writing? Odd question. No!

21. Do you report the money you earn from your blog on your taxes? What are taxes? If I were to be in the lucky position of earning money from this, I'd definitely NOT pay taxes on the earnings.

22. Is blogging narcissistic? Not necessarily but it definitely is for lots of bloggers. I enjoy it and I find it cathartic. I don't think I find it narcissistic. What did I say above about lying on my blog?

23. Do you feel guilty when you don't post for a long time? Since starting, I've been obsessively writing so I've not experienced that. It remains to be seen if it will happen when I have less time and/or inclination. I suspect that it very much depends on how many people read me regularly.

24. Do you like John Mayer? Who is he? Let me do a Google. Oh, he's a musician. Have I just said something very telling about myself?

25. Do you have enemies? No but I sometimes attract stalkers or people with strong stalking tendencies. Animosity, as a result, does sometimes develop.

26. Are you lonely? I like my own company but I also enjoy socialising a lot. In company, I can sometimes feel very lonely but a few swift pints quickly gets rid of that feeling! So, the answer is 'yes, sometimes.'

27. Why bother? Because, for now, I like it.

Filling in the questionnaire reminded me of 'The Seven Ages of Blogging that Troubled Diva referred to. It's definitely too soon for me to analyse myself in that way, but give it time.

Saturday, September 24, 2005

Autumn, the best season of all

oak leaves in autumnIt's been over a week since I've left the house.

I went into Reigate with L to go to the bank then got picked up by D who took me to Crawley. The drive back from Crawley took us through some typically English leafy lanes and wooded areas. Some of the trees look really spectacular now that their autumn colours have taken hold. I didn't get to see much of the countryside last year so I can't compare this year's colours with last year's. But they do seem more vivid and vibrant than I recall from previous autumns.

Apparently, climate change in the UK is 'creating the perfect conditions for a kaleidoscope of seasonal colour to rival the famous hues of north-east America. This autumn is already predicted to be the most colourful in living memory.' The unusually warm, dry weather in the run-up to autumn has increased the sugar concentration in the leaves, boosting the intensity of their colours.

I've always loved autumn even though it means winter's just around the corner. Seems like autumns are going to be getting even better.

Another Mandela statue courts controversy

proposed Mandela statue for Trafalgar SquareToday's Guardian is the first Saturday edition that I've seen in the new 'berliner' format. While the format is growing on me it still feels as if there's less in it than before. It may be smaller in size (even if not in content) but it feels a lot heavier than it did before.

I was interested to read the controversy raging around the plans to erect a new statue of Nelson Mandela in Trafalgar Square. A very public clash is envisaged between Professor GlynnWilliams (head of the school of fine art at the Royal College of Art) appearing for Westminster Council which dislikes the proposed statue and supporters of the statute who are proponents of the prime location sought by Ken Livingstone. In Professor Williams's opinion, the proposed statue by Ian Walters, an award-winning sculptor, is 'an adequate representation but nothing more. In my opinion a sculptor of more originality and inventiveness should have been chosen, so a lasting piece of artistic heritage will be left.' He's entitled to his opinion, of course, but the fact that a work he submitted for another public commission was turned down in favour of something created by Walters has led his critics to accuse him of sour grapes.

proposed Mandela statue for Port Elizabeth This current controversy has reminded me of the controversy surrounding the huge statue (larger than the Statue of Liberty) of Mandela that was proposed for the harbour in Port Elizabeth. That statue was dismissed by critics as a 'blatant exploitation' of the Mandela legend whereas its backers said that it would act both as a monument to freedom and a major tourist attraction. Port Elizabeth is a run-down South African port city in great need of rejuvenation.

The proposed statue also had support from a lot of prominent anti-apartheid activists. Some of the criticism was justified but a lot of it came from very predictable quarters who couched it in terms that disguised the actual reason - Port Elizabeth is a bit of a back-water and the surrounding white population remains very conservative. Almost the sort of people Ken Livingstone would have had in mind when he said this of Westminster Council: 'If I had commissioned a statue of Margaret Thatcher, that would have been nodded through quickly enough.'

I didn't like the statue either - it would have been a monument to kitsch rather than a fitting tribute to Mandela.

Freedom Tower for Port ElizabethEventually, after millions were spent on investigating its feasibility, the project flopped. Thankfully, the original design got ditched at some stage, possibly as a result of the problems related to getting approval for the site. I'd like to think that it got ditched because the relevant authorities came to their collective aesthetic senses.

In January this year, a competition was launched to design a 'Freedom Tower' in the same area. The winner of a competition was announced on Mandela's 87th birthday this year. The winning design is a vast improvement on the original design and could become a great attraction for the area rather than an ugly mistake best avoided. According to its designers, the monument is to be "a tower-like habitable structure, the base depicting the start of Nelson Mandela's journey, leading up to a freedom platform representing [South Africa's] first democratic elections, where visitors can pause for a view in all directions".

I'll be following the outcome of the current controversy with great interest.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Jo'burg Pride turns Sweet Sixteen

Tomorrow is Jo'burg's 16th annual Gay Pride event, Africa's largest.

It's come a long way since the 1989 event when the gay community staged a protest march through Hillbrow wearing paper bags over their heads. It promises to be bigger and better than previous events and its success is being viewed as essential to demonstrate that Jo'burg can host the 2010 Federation of Gay Games.

Last year's event was threatened with drag queens being arrested by police under a law which states, "No person shall at any gathering or demonstration wear a disguise or mask or any other apparel or item which obscures his facial features and prevents his identification". I kid you not - this is South Africa we're talking about, after all! Police were under pressure by a right-wing group to enforce the law but nothing came of it and the event proceeded without incident. No such threats or spoiling tactics have been made this year and the event promises to be a great success.

Non South Africans may find it surprising that Cape Town, despite being known as 'Africa's Gay Capital', waited until 2001 to hold its first pride event. It has, however, been holding its annual MCQP (Mother City Queer Party) event since 1994, an event that has become a well-known fixture on the international gay party circuit.

I've only been to 4 pride events:

  • 2001: London - a great event that proved to be a rather strange day for me culminating in my meeting the 'Barber of Pinna'. More of him another time.
  • 2004: Nottingham - the weather was good and I had fun. I think I did, it's all a blur now.
  • 2005: Cape Town - a week of activities in February this year, including a 'shebeen crawl' to try and make the event more inclusive. A lot of tourists are in Cape Town at that time of the year and the gay scene seemed more crowded than usual. I must have been out every night.
  • 2005: Nottingham - I met up with the 'Usual Suspects' and a great time was had by all. I think I disgraced myself several times but I was forgiven and didn't lose any friends. Michelle wrote about it here.

They were all a great excuse to party and have a great time. I'll definitely be going to more of them but I doubt that I'll ever show signs of becoming one of the 'gay pride groupies' you come across in the UK. All the bigger cities have gay pride events these days and there seems to be one every weekend during summer. Some people make a point of going to a lot, if not most, of them. 'Gay pride groupies', I call them.

In recent years, there have been criticisms about the hedonistic as opposed to the political aspects of such events. Also, there are many within the gay community who find the prominence of the more flamboyant members of the gay community distasteful and are dismayed by the media's concentration on them. They feel that the concentration on 'the freaks' damages the gay cause as it perpetuates gay stereotypes held by the straight community. I understand where they are coming from but they seem to forget that the Stonewall riots, the beginnings of Gay Liberation, started with the uprising of the drag queens who were being persecuted by the police. And they also seem to forget that the gay community is a very diverse one and that Gay Pride should be about celebrating all aspects of that diversity, not just those bits that they find palatable. Read Joe.My.God - he's much more articulate on the subject.

For those of you who will be there, I hope that tomorrow's event in Jo'burg will be a complete gas. Have fun!

Last Weeks in Brighton - Sunday Sundae

After returning to South Africa in the early nineties I'd been back to the UK several times on various business trips but never for much longer than a week or two. My 8-month placement on a project in Brighton in 2000 was my first extended stay in the UK for almost 10 years. It was also the first time I'd ever been to Brighton.

In the days running up to the move, my brother-in-law, his tongue firmly in his cheek, said, 'Brighton is full of gays - you'd better be careful there.' Back then, he didn't know that I'm gay.

'Oh, I'm sure I'll be able to cope,' I said, smiling at his joke while thinking how nice it would be if my tongue were in somebody else's cheek. Not anyone's, someone nice. Someone that I'd find in Brighton.

Within days of arriving, I knew I was going to like the place. There was no shortage of gay venues and my brother-in-law was right about it being full of gays. It didn't take me long to start meeting men. Although I did the gaydar thing to some extent, Brighton made me realise that I much prefer picking up men in bars and clubs to meeting them over the net. Over the next 6 to 7 months, I met a lot, mostly at Dr Brighton's, Amsterdam, Legends and Revenge.

Then it stopped.

About 6 weeks before I left to return to South Africa I went to Sunday Sundae, a place that I tried to avoid as going there simply carried on adding alcohol to an already alcohol-saturated body, making Mondays even more unpleasant than they had to be. As usual, the place was full and the music pumping. The atmosphere was happy and tinged with enough testosterone to awaken senses lulled by a weekend of excess.

The hours are different now but I'm sure that Sunday Sundae went from mid-afternoon to 10pm in those days. Towards the end of the evening, I was leaving the toilet to go to the bar for a last pint before heading home just as a tall, dark, very good-looking guy was entering. He looked at me with piercing dark eyes and said, 'You're famous, aren't you?'

Interesting pick-up line, I thought, hoping that it was one. 'Me?' I said. 'No, not usually but it depends on whose asking and what I'm supposed to be famous for.'

I loved the smile that flashed back. 'I'm sure I've seen you somewhere,' he said. 'Telly, maybe?'

Just a few years ago when my face showed less evidence of my love of beer, I had once been told that I look a bit like Jeremy Irons. Not that I could see it, mind you.

We chatted a bit while he stood pissing, me still at the door as if about to leave. His accent was unusual; it had a twang to it that sounded North American. 'Where are you from?' I asked.

'I'm Canadian,' he said.

'Oh, I'm South African. What are you doing here?'

I can't remember his exact answer but it made sense. We returned to the dancefloor together where he joined a female friend of his and I carried on to the bar. On the way back, I bumped into someone I knew and chatted a bit. By the time I got back to the dancefloor the tall, dark Canadian was no longer there.

I went back to the bar, toured the dancefloor, looked into the toilets, toured the dancefloor again. He wasn't to be found. I looked again. He definitely wasn't there any longer. I checked outside but he wasn't there either.

I went home.

In Dr Brighton's, a week later, I saw him again.

(to be continued)

Thursday, September 22, 2005

Still waiting to go...

All the references are in but my nomadic lifestyle is making it difficult for them to check up on whether I have any CCJs outstanding at any of the addresses I occupied over the last 4 years. As far as I'm aware, I don't have any. And, my aversion (I'm reluctant about all sorts of things!) to paying taxes and keeping up to date with the requirements of 'Companies House' have sort of caught up with me too. So, before I can start work, I need to:
  • supply a personal bank statement that isn't older than 1-2 months old: I'll have to go into the bank and get one printed off. I hope that I can get a 2-month old one as the unofficial overdraft won't look as bad.
  • get my company back on to the register of active companies. This simply means paying in £30 but it may take a few days before that comes into effect. Until that happens, the agency will probably not issue my contract.

So, the wait goes on. The longer it goes on, the longer it is before I start earning money again.

Wednesday, September 21, 2005

A Personal Reference.

G sent me a copy of the personal reference that I need for the new job. In discussing the references I needed, I did wonder if the fact that he's a forensic psychiatrist may not make for the best sort of reference.

personal reference

I'm VERY pleased he refererred to having known me as a personal friend for over 20 years.

Checking up on Reluctant Nomad

Every now and again, I like to see if there are any other Reluctant Nomads on the web. There are several, one of whom seems to have a better claim to the title, and was the subject of my second post.

Another reason to check is to see how my rankings have increased on the various search engines - yes, yes, an obvious sign of a blogger newbie who wants his attention-seeking nature recognised. I began appearing on the top of search lists for a number of search engines a couple of weeks ago but Google steadfastly ignored me. Until yesterday, that is. It's rather satisfying to be recognised by Google now and to see that references to me appear before any of the other reluctant nomads that exist out there.

It's also interesting to check the referrals to my blog - yes, I know that I have too much time on my hands! Usually they're from blogs linked to me but sometimes they come from web searches. Today I've been referred to by a search for 'reluctant men' by MSN Search. I submitted the same search - and I got this at the top of the search list. Warning: not suitable for office-viewing.

Just in case you get the urge to delve into that site, I can categorically state that I do not appear in it at all! More's the pity!

Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Odyssey of a Smoker - Part 3

Part 1 is here and Part 2 is here.

bidi packetsI'm not quite sure now why I started to smoke the bidis more regularly. This change in smoking habit happened about 8 years ago - not that long ago in the grand scheme of things but I can't really pinpoint a reason for the change. It did, however, happen suspiciously soon after re-confessing to my wife that I'm gay which sort-of coincided with my starting to spend time on the gay scene. 'Empirical evidence' would suggest that there is more boozing, drugging and smoking on the gay scene than in most other social environments but could that have been the reason? I don't know. Maybe.

I started to carry around a packet of bidis with me.

That has to be a slippery slope to becoming a much more regular smoker. And, before long, I was right at the bottom of that slope. In my mind though, I was still a non-smoker just as my mind still tells me that I'm a thin person. Bidis aren't 'real' cigarettes! They look interesting, they smell different, they taste different and they don't last as long as one of those increasingly villified cancer sticks commonly known as cigarettes. But, real or not, they sure cause havoc on one's throat!

Various websites, mostly those marketing bidis, extol the 'virtues' of bidis. Take this one for example:

Traditional Indian handmade beedies bidi biri cigarette are all one and the same called in different names throughout the world. Century old traditional method is followed for carefully selecting right quality Tendu Leaf that grows naturally in tropical forest. Since quality tobacco is chosen from the best farms and then blended to give perfect flavour, taste and aroma. Indian Bidies are 100% hand rolled dried at room temperature for 2 days and then finally dried in specially designed drying chamber. (Tandoor). Best quality natural tendu leaf and perfect blend of rich tobacco makes INDIAN bidi an ideal choice for perfect smoke. More and more people are shifting to smoke BEEDIES ,because of the herbal qualities and they also have less harmful properties.

More than 700 Trillion BEEDIES or BIRI are smoked annually, with the numbers increasing phenomenally every year.
Beedies have no paper.
Beedies are cheaper.
Beedies have unique lingering taste.
Tobacco content in Beedies is only 10-20%.
Tobacco in Beedies is used in natural form.
Beedies are healthier compared to other smokes.
Beedies has 100% natural ingredients.
Smoking a Beedie gives a very satisfying experience.

Along with all that, some of these sites talk of how bidi-manufacture preserves traditional values and creates job opportunities for thousands and thousands of people.

Well, they would say that, wouldn't they? Of course they neglect to say what an exploitative industry (particularly as regards children) it can be and they ignore the fact that bidis are actually MORE harmful than regular cigarettes. Some studies suggest that one bidi produces more than 3 times the carbon monoxide and nicotine than one cigarette and more than 5 times the amount of tar than one cigarette.

My throat and lungs were beginning to tell me just that.

I'd met C who was to become my boyfriend for close on 7 years soon after becoming a regular bidi-smoker. He was (and is) a heavy smoker and his brand of choice is Craven A, a menthol cigarette. Anyone who has tried a menthol cigarette will know that whatever problems you may have with the taste, it gives a beguiling sense of cool smoothness. The perfect antidote to a throat ravaged by bidi-smoking!

I started smoking Craven A.
Craven A menthol
In the land of the hardened smoker, there is something rather naff about menthol cigarettes. A real man doesn't smoke them, women do! My wife, who'd long given up cigarettes, used to be a Marlboro Red addict. She was appalled that I'd taken up smoking so late in life and she was appalled by my choice of cigarette.

'If you must smoke, smoke Camel or something decent,' she said. Marlboros weren't sold in South Africa at the time - she'd have suggested them if they were. Although she didn't say so, she was probably thinking, 'What's he doing smoking such a moffie cigarette?' Ok, maybe she didn't think that but I do seem to have come across more gay guys that smoke menthol than straight guys. (*Joke Alert* - Next thing, I'll be accused of being homophobic!)

My kids were also appalled by my smoking. They continue to be appalled by it. Not only does it appall them, sometimes it really upsets them. But, as the saying goes, 'you can't put a wise head on old shoulders.' Yes, I know, I've got that wrong but it makes sense in this context.

The Marlboro man and the cigarettes that killed himAnd then, in 2001, I moved to Brighton for 8 months. At first I tried various UK menthol brands but didn't really take to them. So, like all the other lemmings, I was lured into smoking Marlboro Lights. And, now, 4 years later, I'm still smoking them.

Marlboro Lights - roughly £5 per packet. 1-2 packets a day.

Apply some old-fashioned arithmetic to that and the sums start looking silly. Not just silly, just plain stupid. What was that I said about wisdom and old heads?

You'd think that I'd have cut down now since being unemployed these last few months. Nope - my brain doesn't work that way! I puffed away at my regular rate until the money burnt up. Now that I'm living on borrowed money, it does seem rather obscene to spend that money on exhorbitantly priced fags. Giving up altogether is an option, of course. But, I haven't quite reached that stage.

Instead, I've gone full circle and I'm smoking roll-ups again.

Not Borkum Riff cherry flavour this time but Golden Virginia rolling tobacco. Acceptable enough, but vile stuff if the truth be told. Soggy roll-ups and nicotine-stained fingers don't make for the prettiest sight. With that in mind, it must be time to consider giving up for good. But, I start a new job this week - I'll be earning good money again.

Oh stuff it, I'm off to roll another.
Golden Virginia

Another relief parcel arrives.

Michelle has sent me some more books, a lime green card with a very happy looking silver cat (definitely not Big Ron!), and a pack of condoms.

She says she's not so sure about the books but awaits my verdict, especially on 'The Traveller' by John Twelve Hawks, a book she was tempted to throw against the wall. Well, what do you expect from an author whose middle name is 'Twelve'? The blurb sounds promising so I'll definitely give it a whirl.

What am I to do with the condoms? Blow them up and pop them against the hedgehog? I know you mean well, but they remind me of less frugal times. God, you'd think I've been incarcerated in a monastery for years the way I go on.

Thank you, thank you, thank you - I hope you can feel the virtual hugs and kisses bits-ing and bytes-ing their way to you.

That's the fourth relief parcel to arrive, the others being:
Someone rang on Saturday to find out the address to deliver a parcel but nothing arrived. I wonder if a relief parcel has gone astray?

Odyssey of a Smoker - Part 2

Go here for Part 1.

My flirtation with the weed, tobacco in this case, didn't last much longer than 6 months. It was easy to stop and there were no withdrawal symptoms of any kind. I did, however, miss the smokey bubbles!

I more-or-less moved in with E straight after meeting her. She shared a flat with two flat mates, one of whom was a friend who fancied me and who'd introduced us. Sounds tricky, I know, but it wasn't. At the end of that year, we moved to a communal house in Observatory, the home of Cape Town's white working class and 'bohemian' students. Yes, quite strange bed-fellows but mostly amicable in relations. Observatory borders on Salt River, a 'coloured' suburb and it retained a slightly 'mixed' feel despite apartheid's best efforts to eradicate it. We knew the housemates from varsity. Two of them, like me, were drop-outs and had just started first jobs. Only E and M, whose brother owned the house, were students.

All of us smoked dope and so did all of our friends. About half of them also smoked cigarettes. E didn't. Nor did I.

Jimmy CliffVery appropriately, Jimmy Cliff performed at the nearby Hartleyvale Football Stadium that year. The concert wasn't that well-attended but there was enough dope in the air to fill the Hindenburg. I'm not sure how he got passed the cultural boycott but it made us happy. We'd have preferred seeing Bob Marley or Peter Tosh live but Jimmy Cliff was more than an adequate second-best. Especially since we'd seen The Harder They Come just a few months previously. Some reggae afficionados would argue that he was a much better representative of reggae but the other two achieved greater commercial fame.

The commune wasn't a great success.

The people wore us down even though we were all so mellowed out on dope. J, the moody secretary, had a dreadful dog that yapped a lot and an even more dreadful boyfriend who whined a lot. W, the fat drama-school drop-out, paraded around in the nick and was always making lunges at me. M, the owner's sister, was placid and on our side when it came to bitching about the others but tended to sit on the fence when it came to the regular powwows convened to sort out household issues. The atmosphere soured as the months went by and wasn't exactly condusive to a new job and part-time studies. The dope didn't help either!

E and I moved out after 10 months. Having a place to ourselves was liberating and we cut down on the dope. E passed her exams. Amazingly, I did too.

I didn't smoke a regular cigarette for the next 18 years.

Now and again, we still smoked dope - I more so than E. We'd even reached the stage where we could have dope in the house and not flatten it within days, something unheard of just the year before. If cigarettes were bought, they were bought as 'mix'.

We did, however, occasionally - very occasionally - smoke bidis.

bidisE had returned from India and Nepal just months before I'd met her. Amongst the many beautiful bits of jewellery and mementoes she'd brought back were several packets of bidis. I'd never seen them before and found them exotic and fascinating. Small, pungent leaves wrapped around a bit of tobacco, tied with a small piece of pink cotton and tightly packed into a beautiful packet covered in Indian figures and writing - they were the epitome of handcrafted perfection, the complete antithesis of Western mass-market products.
loose bidis

We didn't make a habit of smoking them nor did we make a habit of buying them. Even so, a packet was often to be found next to the chillum, stuck away in a drawer. For all their beauty and exotic redolence of the Orient, they could hardly be described as being 'made for your smoking pleasure'. Once lit, a bidi needs constant attention as it goes out very easily - smoking bidis can be a frustrating experience! But, the taste and smell are very pleasant after a drunken dinner party once it's time to be indiscriminate with various forgotten liqueurs and ports that lie gathering dust in the booze cupboard.

Buying them was almost more fun than smoking them as I'd usually buy them from Atlas Trading Store in the Bo-Kaap area of Cape Town. The Bo-Kaap, also known as the Cape Malay Quarter, nestles below the slopes of Signal Hill and has, until very recently, remained almost unchanged since the 19th century. The area is predominantly Muslim and is dotted with the minarets from several mosques. bidi packetsIt's within less than half a kilometre from the city centre but the pace of life seems slower, the shops are noticeably different and the air is often suffused with the smells of spices and home-made curries.

Atlas Trading Store seemed to occupy another time and place - it could have been in India or in some colonial outpost of Africa. The smells were different. And, despite occasional customers from the affluent white suburbs, the customers were different. The courteous manners of the staff and their ways of doing business weren't those of electronic cash-registers and bland shop assistants trained to smile but not engage.

It's changing now. So is the whole area.

For many years after having stopped smoking regular cigarettes, the occasional bidi was the extent of my smoking habit.

Monday, September 19, 2005

All set to go.

It looks like it's going to be Thursday and not Wednesday that I start.

I have the cheap/dodgy hotel sorted out. No doubt, I'll soon be writing about it a la the Clarence Hotel. This time, I'll try to avoid the entertaining comments Mike received on Troubled Diva.

I've worked out how to get to Northampton (the train is cheaper than the coach), to the hotel, and from the hotel to work.

But, before I can start, there's a whole referencing procedure that has to be completed. We're not talking about work references that say how good or bad I'll be a the job. They need to know my whereabouts for the last 4 years - contact references for every place I've been, and, where I've not worked for more than 3 months, they want a character reference from a professional person such as a doctor, lawyer or accountant.
  • Aug 2001 – Jan 2003: Dept of Social Security – Newcastle-upon-Tyne - a rented flat
  • Apr 2003 – Jul 2003: Accenture – Singapore – based in hotel
  • Aug 2003 – Oct 2003: holiday in S Africa - based at my home there
  • Nov 2003 – Oct 2004: Boots PLC – Nottingham - a rented flat
  • Oct 2004 – Feb 2005: IBM Dublin – based in various hotels in Brussels and Southampton
  • Mar 2005 – Aug 2005: Boots PLC – Nottingham - a rented flat

Getting residence and work references for some of them is easy but some are a bit more tricky. After much searching through ancient emails, I managed to track down a contact for Singapore. G has agreed to be the professional character reference - I hope that his being a forensic psychiatrist won't be a problem! The Dublin contact is on holiday so I've managed to find someone in his area but she's not in the office until tomorrow morning.

So, it's possible that Wednesday could still be the day but it's not looking likely. This does seem rather excessive - you'd think I was applying to join MI5.

Saturday, September 17, 2005

Bovril vs Marmite

bovrilA week or so ago, soon after arriving in Outer Mongolia (aka rural Surrey), I had an urge for Bovril on toast.

I love eating Bovril lightly smeared on toast that has cooled enough for the butter not to sink in. The Bovril mixes in with the butter to make lovely swirly patterns of pale yellow, black and brown. To me, it's delicious and a great comfort food. My daughter has inherited the same love for it and insists on eating it just the way I do.

Next time L went off to the shops, I asked her to get me some - I've been eating it daily ever since.

Bovril and Marmite are as quintessentially South African as they are British. Yes, they may originate from the UK but they've been sold in South Africa for almost as long as they have in the UK. Kids grow up knowing that part of growing up means having black gunge spread on their sandwiches and toast. Some families stock both products but there are many who favour one over the other - they pick their side of the Bovril-Marmite divide, stick to it and will defend it very passionately.

My mother stocked both but I was never keen on Marmite. They looked the same and their bottles were very similar even if the Bovril logo was mostly red and the Marmite one mostly yellow. Apart from the taste, the big differentiating factor was that Bovril was made from beef, Marmite from a yeast extract.

So, you can imagine my dismay to hear, late last year, that Bovril had decided to dispense with the beef and become yet another product based on a yeast extract. Reasons cited for this change were drops in sales sparked off by mad cow disease and export restrictions overseas. These restrictions were based on those mad cows and restrictions introduced by Malaysia, one of the biggest Bovril markets, on non-halal meat products. It seems that the Malaysians are very keen on stirring Bovril into their porridge and coffee.

Now, I can understand the commercial imperative to change something to keep up sales but why tamper with a tried-and-tested formula that has lasted over a hundred years? Sure, make a non-beef variety but continue with the original formula. And, if needs be, even call the new upstart Bovril and rename the old one something else.

This is what the Unilever Bestfoods (makers of Bovril AND Marmite, as it happens) website has to say about Bovril:

bovril advertIt might not have been on our TV screens for a while, but Bovril hot drinks are still seen on dining tables across the land. And of course, it continues to warm countless fans in football stadiums up and down the country. After more than a century, the Bovril brand is still going strong, making it one of Unilever's oldest brands.

How it all started

  • Bovril is a British classic. But in a roundabout way, we owe it to the French. In the 1870-71 war against the Germans, Napoleon realised armies could not 'march on empty stomachs', so his officials ordered a million cans of beef. The contract went to a Scot by the name of John Lawson Johnston. The only trouble was, Britain didn't have enough beef to meet French demand.
  • Undeterred, Johnston went to Canada to develop his new product (then known as Johnston's Fluid Beef). When he returned to London in 1884, he set up a small factory in Old Street, Shoreditch. By 1888 there were over 3000 pubs, grocers (and even chemists) serving Bovril. In 1889, the Bovril Company was formed - in 1901 Bovril was trading as far as South Africa and South America.
  • 1966 saw the launch of Bovril instant beef stock, followed by the 'King Beef' range of instant flavours for stews, casseroles and gravy in 1971.
  • In 1990 Bovril first began to sponsor charitable fireworks displays on Bonfire Night, providing free samples of Bovril for visitors.
  • By 1994 enough Bovril was sold to make over 90 million mugs of hot drink - that's enough for every person attending a football League Match to have one at the beginning, one at half-time, one at the end and another cup when they got home.
  • Unilever acquired Bovril in 2000. Recognising that not all people eat meat, we created a vegetarian recipe.

    They wax on and on about Bovril's illustrious pedigree. The sort of pedigree that has inspired Bovril fanatics all over the world. Inspired them to set up fan sites like The Bovril Shrine. Ok, that is a bit geekish and trainspotter-ish even for someone like me who loves the stuff. But, you get the point. Then, at the end, they terminate their eulogy with that damp squibb about why they created a vegetarian recipe. How do they expect to get away with it?

    bovril advert especially for vegetarians
    Ok, we all know that animal rights campaigners are a very vocal lobby and some of them are downright dangerous. But, the last time I checked, vegetarianism is definitely not something that has the beef industry running scared - they have other worries, largely self-induced, but good old-fashioned bloody meat continues to be eaten in large quantities.

    Unilever say that extensive taste tests were conducted before they introduced the new formula - 50% of people preferred the taste of the meat-free version, with 10% being unable to tell the difference. That means that 40% can tell the difference. More importantly, I can tell the difference!

    Are we going to have another taste and marketing debacle like the stupidity embarked upon by Coca Cola many years ago? I suspect not. Bovril still tastes better than Marmite but Marmite seems to have 'won the war'.
  • Smoking Hangover - what's that?

    I have yet to get to part 2 of my 'Odyssey of a Smoker'. In the meantime, here are some cartoons from more innocent, less restrictive times.

    Click on the images if the text appears too small.

    Philip Morris ad
    Philip Morris ad
    Philip Morris ad

    Smoking hangover? A night out on the tiles can be murder on the throat the next day but I've never thought of it as a smoking hangover.

    Here is another series:

    Philip Morris Christmas ad
    Philip Morris Christmas ad
    Philip Morris Christmas ad
    Philip Morris Christmas ad

    I got these here. There's some amusing stuff there.

    Friday, September 16, 2005

    Singapore Slings

    I had my first Singapore Sling in Singapore, in the Long Bar at Raffles Hotel, its birthplace.

    For a few months in 2003, I worked in Raffles City Tower, a tall building across the road from Raffles. The first three floors of the building are a vast, gleaming showcase of upmarket consumerism. - marble, chrome and glass; silent escalators that stretch endlessly heavenwards. It also happens to be the most obviously cruisy place outside of a gay bar or club that I've ever been to.

    Soon after starting work there, I met a recently acquired friend for drinks at Raffles after work. We spent several hours there, knocking them back with gay abandon then went back to my apartment. A great drink but not one that I'd actively seek out again.

    Recipe for Singapore Sling
    A few weeks before leaving Singapore, I almost had a sling of another kind.

    I was in the Taboo Club on a Friday evening, desperately hot and desperately horny. As usual, the place was heaving. Singapore is hot and humid, uncomfortably so, but wading through the humidity and heat generated by the crowd felt like wandering through the corridors of Hell. A Hell populated by lithe young men bent on taking a white guy home.

    White, gay men over a 'certain age' who like young men are very well-catered for in Singapore. They can be seen in the gay bars, surrounded by young attentive men, blissful expressions on their faces. A blissful expression that's often accompanied by a very distasteful combination of smugness and arrogance. A combination that doesn't seem to deter the attention of the pretty Asian boys. I'm white and gay and, to some, I'm 'over a certain age' but, to me, there's a lot more to men than just prettiness and youth. I was horny and I was being touched, smiled at, and sometimes followed by several men, mostly very young, but I wasn't interested in them.

    And then I saw L.

    He was on his own and looking in my direction. I'd seen him before, weeks before, and we'd exchanged looks and smiles but not talked. This time we walked up to each other and started shouting at each other in an attempt to hear each other speak. Like most Singaporean men, he was a lot shorter than I am and, like many Singaporean men, he was beautifully built. In repose, his face was hard, almost mask-like. When he smiled, it lit up brilliantly. It was too noisy in there to actually have a conversation but we danced until the sweat poured off me and we bought each other drinks. Lots of them.

    After a few hours, L suggested we go. I followed him out into the street.

    'Do you want to come back to my apartment?' I asked. Most of the other men I'd picked up in Singapore wanted to go back to my place as most of them lived in small apartments, often with several other family members.

    'No,' he said, 'come with me. I have somewhere nice to go to.'

    We crossed several wide streets before coming to a metal grille covering a door. L unlocked the grille and lifted it high enough for us to stoop under. He locked it, unlocked the door and switched on the lights. 'Come in,' he said, smiling.

    I followed him into a smallish foyer and stood looking around while he went behind the counter to get some keys. Areas went off to the left and right. To the right I could see a bar area and a small pool surrounded by lush plants and palm trees. 'What's this place?' I asked.

    'The sauna,' he said. 'I'm the manager.'

    I'd been to saunas before and I've been to them since but I'm not really a sauna slut. Here we had the place to ourself - the bar, the pool, the steam room, the showers, the cubicles, the dark room, the whole place. We'd been lusting after each other ever since seeing each other a couple of hours earlier - within seconds, we were all over each other.

    During the next few hours, we fucked everywhere and every way. It was amazing, he was amazing, I was amazing. There was a sling but we didn't use it. We drank more, we sniffed poppers, we had lots of sex and we smoked loads of dope. Dope? Yes, dope in Singapore.

    Homosexuality is still illegal in Singapore but the gay scene has become very open in recent years. Backstage Bar had applied officially to fly the rainbow flag a year or so before I was there - permission had been granted. But the relaxing of laws criminalising homosexuality has not extended to the laws concerning drugs. The penalites for drug use and dealing are very severe. In theory, the death penalty can be applied to drug offences.

    We left at about 6am and went to my apartment. The concierge greeted me, ignored L and let us in. We slept for a few hours then started where we'd left off. L eventually left at 11 that night.

    I received an email from L yesterday. It was the first time I'd heard from him since leaving Singapore. I replied and got another from him today. In it he says: 'You may not have learnt that I was in jail for drug consumption "ketamine" for 8 month in 2004. Since then, I was jobless after being released.'

    Sounds like he may've got off lightly. It's strange being in touch with him again.

    So the N thing worked after all.

    My heart was set on London and I was sure that I'd get it. But, it wasn't to be.

    Northampton it is.

    Great to be almost employed again but not so sure about the location. Friends have suggested I commute there from Nottingham, even if only temporarily, but the public transport links between the two cities aren't great. A train to Wellingborough, only 10 miles from Northampton, takes an hour from Nottingham. A train all the way almost takes 2.5 hours! If British Rail still existed, I'd be saying, 'Crazy British Rail!'

    I could start on Monday but I'll most likely start on Wednesday.

    Thursday, September 15, 2005

    One Pot Goulash

    In the car, off to catch the train to my interview this morning, L instructed, I mean requested, that I make dinner tonight. I readily agreed and asked if she had something in mind.

    The WeightWatcher's recipe book was open on 'One Pot Goulash' when I got home. D had already bought the necessary ingredients including some really nice-looking braising steak from the excellent butchery in Brockham.

    1 tsp caraway seeds
    300 g new potatoes
    low fat cooking spray - WHAT??
    250 g lean braising steak, cubed
    1 large onion, chopped
    1 garlic clove, crushed - WHAT??
    1 red pepper, de-seeded and cut into chunks
    1/4 tsp hot smoked paprika - WHAT??
    400 g canned chopped tomatoes
    1 beef stock cube, dissolved in 100 ml boiling water
    1 tblsp chopped fresh dill
    2 tblsp low fat natural yoghurt
    salt and freshly ground pepper

    I won't bore you with the details on how to make it but what on earth is the point of cooking if you're going to cut out the oil, use negligible amounts of garlic (and spices) and concentrate on low fat ingredients?

    I like cooking when I'm cooking for others and, apparently, I'm good at it. In Nottingham, I hardly ever cooked simply because I had no one else to cook for and I lived on a diet of chips, fags, coffee and beer. So, when I do get the chance to cook, or when asked to, I like to put some passion into the effort. That sort of cooking is passion-less - it's a waste of time and good ingredients.

    What the fuck is the point, I ask?

    Yet another interview.

    London this time.

    And, not just London, one of the best locations in London - Southwark Bridge, views of the river, views of London landmarks like St Paul's and the 'Gherkin', about 300 metres walk from Tate Modern.

    I met the agent at 8.30 this morning for a latte and a briefing on the position before going in to be interviewed by 3 people at 9. For once, I seemed (to my internal critic) very articulate and rather intelligent. It was all to do with the people interviewing me, of course, although the prior briefing may have helped too.

    One of the interviewers, someone the agent had described as 'seemingly taciturn at times', seemed very engaged with the whole process and, towards the end of the interview, said, 'On a lighter note, I see you collect modern first editions'. This led to a brief discussion on book-collecting and my finding out that he's also a bit of a dabbler when it comes to collecting modern firsts.

    A good sign, I feel.

    I left in a very positive frame of mind. Let's hope that something concrete comes of all this.

    Odyssey of a Smoker - Part 1

    rizla papers

    I didn't smoke at school.

    A lot of my friends, the 'cool kids', did. Most of the teachers smoked; both my parents had smoked and most of my friends' parents smoked. I didn't because smoking seemed too obviously a cool thing for a school kid to do. But, I didn't mind anyone else smoking - when I became a hostel prefect, my friends could count on me not reporting them. How they thought anyone couldn't tell that they'd been smoking, I really don't know - no amount of toothpaste or peppermint was going to disguise that smell!

    Doing anything obviously cool just wasn't me. I even courted with old-fogeyism, just to be different in my own way. Why else would a teenager insist, until the age of about 14, that he liked the Andrews sisters and Ray Conniff? And why else would a teenager deliberately not wear denim? My music tastes changed dramatically at about that age and so did my dress sense but I still thought myself too different to be obviously cool.

    No smoking for me.

    But, none of that stopped me from actively seeking out dope at about 16, something almost unheard of at Barberton High School at the time. I had a good friend get me some from one of the farmhands on his parent's farm. Apart from him and another friend, no one there, not even the cool kids knew that I smoked dope. It was a different matter when I returned to Mozambique during the school holidays - we all smoked the stuff.

    And more. Often.

    By the time I got to varsity I'd transformed myself completely. My pimples cleared up, my hair was left to its own devices and my clothes became more and more outlandish - a hippy was born. One that just happened to be a medical student, living in a comfortable university residence, rather than a left-wing commune on a diet of lentils and rice. This being 1977, I was actually going backwards as the hippy era was dying, almost dead. Donna Summer and the Bee Gees dominated the charts but Punk was on the rise.

    Medical students were largely a conservative bunch - obvious in their white coats, they were already secure about their elevated position in society. The only noticeable sub-grouping was the sizeable bunch of rugger-buggers, male medics that distinguished themselves by loudness, lewdness and the copious amounts of beer that they either drank or alluded to drinking. If it were not for the white coats, most of the rest would've faded into a solid background of wholesome respectability.

    I fitted into neither group. I looked like an arts student and I tended to think like arts students - they were my natural milieu. A lot of us were very left-wing and a lot of us smoked dope. We thought we were hip; everyone else thought we were weird. Not many of us were actually weird but a lot were very pretentious. We spent an inordinate amount of time in confined spaces, getting stoned and earnestly discussing the arts, literature, politics, philosophy and drugs. Sometimes, not very frequently, we could be found wandering along the mountain paths or on the beach.

    In those long-gone days, long before the advent of the metrosexual, any sign of flamboyance in a male was highly suspect. But, while hippies were regarded as weird, especially in conservative South Africa, they were expected to be flamboyant. Hippies looked weird and they were weird but they weren't queer. Well, not necessarily. Was that another reason why the 'lifestyle' appealed to me? There is nothing remotely flamboyant about me these days but I do remember being very fond of the colours, ethnic fabrics and beads.

    I still didn't smoke. Cigarettes that is.

    Me blowing smoke bubbles
    During one of our intense dope sessions I remembered how my father had once blown soap bubbles for me while expelling smoke from his lungs. It had been fascinating to watch the bubbles burst into clouds of smoke just like little silent bombs. I decided to do the same. My friend T often had a bottle of soap bubbles - she'd pass them round when we were stoned and we would watch each other blowing bubbles. And we would watch each other blowing bubbles. And we would....

    I asked someone for a cigarette and began blowing bubbles.

    Watching those bubbles burst into clouds of smoke when stoned had everyone gasping in amazement. It became my party trick and, before long, I was well on my way to becoming an infrequent but regular smoker. My friend B sometimes smoked a pipe of Borkum Riff cherry-flavoured tobacco. I loved its smell but didn't like the taste of a pipe. So started my habit of making roll-ups with pipe tobacco. borkum riff pipe tobaccoFor someone who was quite shy, very shy in some situations, I chose to make myself very conspicuous by my clothes, hair and choice of tobacco.

    Those of you who've never grown up in a country where cigarettes are dirt cheap, especially so in those less taxed times, probably don't only associate Rizlas with joints. Enough people in the UK smoke roll-ups for cigarette papers to be just that. In South Africa, white university students were generally a rather affluent bunch. Those that smoked, smoked 'proper' cigarettes. The working classes, black and white, also smoked regular cigarettes. Just the poorest black men could be seen rolling their own and that would usually be in quite thick paper, even newspaper. Rizlas were almost exclusively bought by the dope crowd. Being young, white and seen to buy Rizlas could only mean one thing - dope smoker!

    rizla papersI don't think I consciously tried to be cool. I was just me and there were certain things I identified with which had an effect on the way I looked and the things I did. Unlike almost all of the other students, I happened to have virtually no money at all. My fees and accommodation were covered by a scholarship so I wasn't exactly homeless. But, my guardian had left me in Cape Town with very little money. Dumped there is one way of looking at it. Smoking was a habit that I couldn't really afford to indulge. And, although cigarettes were cheap, roll-ups were even cheaper. Coincidentally, they also seemed to carry a 'hippy seal of approval'

    I began rolling my own.

    About six months later, I met E through a friend of hers who fancied me. E had just returned from doing the 'hippy trail' across Asia where she spent time in India and Nepal. I found her fascinating and started spending all my time with her. She'd been a very heavy smoker who'd given up about a year before and, typically, had become a rabid anti-smoker.

    I stopped smoking.